What Does “Jurisdiction” Mean? 

What Does "Jurisdiction" Mean?

You may have heard the term “jurisdiction” thrown around in a television and movie courtroom dramas, but have no idea what they are talking about and what it is. The term ‘jurisdiction’ first surfaced in the English language in Great Britain in the early fourteenth century. At the time, it meant “administration of justice.” Then in the early fifteenth century, the term also picked up the meaning “judicial authority” and “right of making and enforcing laws.”

So, what exactly does it mean today?

Jurisdiction usually describes any authority over a specific area or specific persons. Sometimes jurisdiction refers to a particular geographic area containing a defined legal authority. Take the United States, for example. The federal government is its own jurisdiction whose power spans the entire United States. Each individual state is also a jurisdiction unto itself, having the ability to pass its own laws. Even smaller geographic areas, such as counties and cities, are separate jurisdictions in that they have powers that are independent of both the federal and state governments.

There are three types of jurisdictions:

  • Original jurisdiction: This court hears the case first.
  • Appellate jurisdiction: This is a higher court that has the power to review a lower court’s decision.
  • Exclusive jurisdiction: Only that court can hear a specific case.

Jurisdiction can also refer to the origin of a court’s authority. Courts may have two designations: general jurisdictions or special jurisdictions. A court of general jurisdiction is a trial court that can hear all cases but those that are specifically reserved for courts of special jurisdiction. Special jurisdiction courts are empowered to hear only specific kinds of cases.

Jurisdiction is also used to define the appropriate court in which to bring a specific case. Typically, general and special jurisdiction courts have original jurisdiction over most claims, and appeals courts and the jurisdiction’s highest court have appellate jurisdiction. Finally, jurisdiction refers to the central authority of a court to hear a case and declare a judgment.

This means for someone seeking to initiate a lawsuit must determine where to file the complaint. The plaintiff (person who brings a case against another in a court of law) must file suit in a court that has jurisdiction over their legal matter. If a court does not have the appropriate jurisdiction, the defendant (individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law) may challenge the suit, and it might be dismissed. Or, its result might be overturned in a subsequent action.

Where can I find out more about the appropriate jurisdiction for my situation?

If you’re considering filing a lawsuit and have more specific questions and concerns, you’ll want to speak to your attorney in your local area about the details of the case so he or she can ensure your case is heard in the appropriate jurisdiction. A qualified and credentialed attorney can help you understand more about the trial process and make sure your case gets attention from the appropriate court. Set up a consultation with an attorney to find out more.